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Sheikh Hasina Leaves Bangladesh

Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has left her country for the United States, for medical treatment. Her parole, amid her pending corruption trials, has broken a political gridlock that threatened planned national elections, this year. From our South Asia Bureau in New Delhi, VOA correspondent Steve Herman has this report.

One of two embattled former prime ministers of Bangladesh has left the country. Sheikh Hasina flew out of Dhaka, Thursday, a day after the army-backed caretaker government granted her an eight-week release. Hasina is to undergo medical treatment in the United States for hearing damage she suffered during a 2004 assassination attempt.

Prosecutors say legal proceedings against her - mainly dealing with alleged corruption - will continue in her absence. The Awami League is the largest political party in Bangladesh and Hasina, the daughter of the country's founding leader, is its matriarch and dominant figure. Former Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed says the party will be able to function effectively while she is out of Bangladesh.

"In her absence, the main leadership of the Awami League's decision-making body, presidium, of which I am also a member, will decide jointly. And, definitely, wherever Sheikh Hasina stays we'll try our best to take her advice, to take her decision. I think the party will be conducted very nicely. It will not be any problem," said Tofail Ahmed.

Before her departure, Ms. Hasina is said to have spoken on the telephone for 30 minutes with the head of the caretaker government, Fakhruddin Ahmed. A government adviser told reporters that the interim leadership is now engaged in a "formal dialog" with the Awami League to pave the way for elections.

Hasina's rival and two-time former Prime Minister  the head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, remains in jail on graft charges. She has refused a similar offer to be granted parole for treatment of her medical ailments, if she would go overseas.

Some political analysts suspect the interim government wants to keep the two women, known as the "battling Begums" out of Bangladesh until after December elections for parliament. Ministers of the emergency government, backed by the army, have said they want to depart by the end of the year and hand over power to successors selected as a result of democratic elections.

Chaos and street violence in 2006, blamed on the followers of the two major political parties, led to a state of emergency and prompted the military to give its blessing to an extended tenure for the caretaker leadership.

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